The Murder of President Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln, the most famous President that America has ever had, was murdered by a brandy-crazed actor in a Washington theatre on April 14, 1865. In his two terms of offce he had handled the most difficult situations that a man in his position was ever called upon to conquer. And he conquered them. He achieved - this man who was born in a log cabin and rose, by his own efforts, to the eminence of the White House - the emancipation of the slaves and the union of his country; though to do that he had to suffer calumny, abuse, and finally, civil war.
He was the man who believed that happiness meant "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." He was a practical as well as an ethical Socialist fifty years before his time; with less than a year's schooling he made himself a man's man whose precept and example many lesser men have not been too proud to follow. He was a people's man, for he believed that the people ruled their country; yet he was a ruler for he believed that a country needed ruling.
Abraham Lincoln was born at Hardin, in Kentucky, on February 12, 1809. His earliest ancestor in America was Samuel Lincoln, a native of Norwich, in England. Samuel had a son who moved to Kentucky in 1780. He was named Abraham. In 1784 he was killed by Indians while working with his three sons, one of whom, Thomas, was father of Abraham. His mother was Nancy Hanks before her marriage to Thomas in 1806, and the future President was the first son. He had one brother and one sister, the latter his senior.
Thomas Lincoln was a man who found it difficult to settle for long in one spot. He was a dreamer, while his wife had that strain of romanticism almost never absent from the women of the frontier. They had to be romantic - those pioneer women - if they did not wish to fall under the heavy burdens that such a life imposed upon them. So that it is not unnatural that young Lincoln should be something of a dreamer, too.
But he was constructive in all his dreams. His father was rather shiftless - he tried many occupations, none with outstanding success; and whatever success his son achieved in after life was not due in any marked degree to the advantages he enjoyed in his youth. He had fresh air - rather too much of that during the period when his parents lived in a three-sided shack during one of Thomas's treks in search of fortune - and had from early days remarkable strength.
When Abraham was eight years of age the family took a farm in Indiana. The soil was unfruitful, and the forests had to be cleared by hand. It was here that he learned to swing an axe. In 1818 his mother died; she was buried in a coffin which her husband himself fashioned from green lumber. When he was twenty-one his father married again; a widow, Sarah Bush Johnson. Very soon there was established a bond of sympathy between step-mother and step-son. She was kind and sympathetic with the young man and his aspirations, and helped him a great deal to realise them.
In Lincoln's day the three "Rs" was considered enough for the children of the frontier; but he was luckier than many of them for he acquired books, over which he eagerly pored at every opportunity. His little library contained Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress, among others, and very soon he knew them almost by heart. At this period, too, the fanciful in his nature was given full play. He would make verses, and invent stories of his own which he would tell to sympathetic listeners.
One can imagine him, with practically no knowledge of the world outside, weary with the day's work, sitting among the whispering trees in the evening, weaving fanciful tales of what he thought was life in the big world beyond the forest. Did he then think of the Senate House at Washington, and a hushed audience waiting on his word?
There are numerous stories of his humanity. He was enormously strong - once he lifted a 600 lbs. weight - but he never used his strength as a weapon; only as a defence - usually the defence of somebody or something else. He could not bear cruelty in any form to man or beast; it was the cruelties practised upon the black slaves that first awakened his sympathy with their lot. The sight of an animal being ill-treated brought out a kind of calm savagery in him, and he dealt with the offender calmly but ruthlessly.
When he was driving the ox-wagon containing his family's belongings on the Illinois trek, a pet dog which had been following got left behind at a ford. It stood on the farther bank, whining piteously. His companions would have gone - "only a dog," they said - but Lincoln insisted in going back, wading across the ford and bringing the animal in his arms to safety. "Its frantic joy repaid me for the exposure I had undertaken," he said afterwards. His honesty was proverbial. Once he said, "I never use any man's money but my own." One day in his store he gave a woman shopper, by accident, short change. Short by six and a half cents. When the shop closed he walked three miles to repay her and apologise for his mistake. He acquired the name, "Honest Abe."
Because he could be depended upon never to misuse his strength, and because, also, of his great strength of character, he was judge, referee, peacemaker, in disputes, games and quarrels.
Lincoln had several affairs of the heart before he met the woman who was to be his wife. He was always a romantic boy, so that when he met, at the age of nineteen, Ann Rutledge, the daughter of a tavern-keeper, he was attracted to her not only because she was attractive but because she represented to him the "damsel in distress." She had had a lover who had left her. Lincoln grew very fond of the tavern-keeper's daughter; probably he might have asked her to be his wife, but she died and left him, for a while, brokenhearted.
He became melancholy; a far-away look was not often absent from his eyes. There were more verses. Then he met Mary Owens, and eventually became engaged to her. For a while they were happy, and then they seemed to grow apart, and in the end the girl broke off the engagement. Lincoln did not break his heart this time; for two years he seems to have been fancy-free. At that time he was putting all he knew into his work. Ambition had awakened.
Then in 1842 he met Mary Todd. He was past thirty; she just twenty-one. It is significant to note that she was in a much better social position than Lincoln - the fact that he attracted her proved how far he had travelled along the road of self-education. They became engaged; there seemed every prospect of their being very happy together.
The wedding had been arranged, and then there came an inexplicable happening. The bride was ready for the marriage, but the bridegroom did not appear. Biographers differ on the point. Some say there had been a disagreement; others that Lincoln suffered a temporary nervous breakdown. At all events the wedding did not take place. He went to Kentucky, but later they were reconciled, these two, and were married on November 4, 1842.
They were very happy in themselves and in each other's company but unfortunate in their family. Of their four sons, but one lived to reach manhood. One, Edward Baker, died in infancy, another, William Wallace, died at the age of twelve, and a third, Thomas, at the age of eighteen. Robert, the first-born, was the only one to survive. Even he was followed by tragedy.... His father was assassinated - later he was to see another President - Garfield - to whom he was acting as Secretary for War, assassinated, too.
Mrs. Lincoln survived her husband by seventeen years, but she never got over the shock of seeing him fall to the assassin's bullet. Her life had been one of many sorrows. The war divided her own family - some belonged to one camp and some to the other - but she never let this fact interfere with her devotion to her husband. She visited war-camps and hospitals, bringing what comfort she could to the wounded. She had already lost two sons when her husband was killed; later she was to lose a third. These successive shocks affected her reason, and she lived in strict retirement in the later years, sometimes with her son in Chicago, sometimes in Europe, and once or twice at her old home, Springfield.
Mary Lincoln used to tell a tale of her husband's chivalry; though she never dared tell it if he were present, for he was not proud of the incident. It happened during the period of estrangement between them. She was a clever woman and contributed frequent articles to the Press, and among these was a series of political satires under the title of Letters from Lost Townships. They appeared in the Sangamon Journal, and one of them excited the ire of the Auditor of State, a fiery Irishman from County Tyrone, who afterwards became a general and Senator. Lincoln read the article, too, and its humour appealed to him so much that he wrote another one in similar vein. The fiery Irishman, James Shields, went to the editor, the editor went to Lincoln, and Lincoln promptly took blame for both articles.
Of course he knew perfectly that Mary Todd - as she was then - was the culprit, but he preferred to take the blame on his own shoulders. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel, Abraham as the challenged party, had the choice of weapons. He chose cavalry broadswords - "of the largest size" - and in due course the two principal actors in this comedy, and their seconds, appeared on the field of combat. But there was no duel; the seconds talked them out of it. Unfortunately the newspapers got hold of the story, and Lincoln was very much annoyed. "If all the good things I have ever done," he said, "are remembered as long and as well as my scrape with Shields, it is plain I shall not soon be forgotten."
On two occasions he went to New Orleans. The first time he went as a "hired man" on a flat boat. Later, when his family had moved to Illinois, he again visited the city, and it was on this second visit that the condition of the slaves first came under his notice. He saw slaves with a great deal of work and very little play - he saw conditions which shocked a young man brought up amid the freedom of the forests and the open skies - and here, probably, was born that conviction which was eventually to set every slave free.
When the family moved to Illinois he drove the wagon that carried all their possessions. Moving was easier in those days. Presently he found himself a job in a store in the village of Salem - a frontier town. The town contained a group of young roughs calling themselves the Clary Grove Boys. They were inclined to bully newcomers - it was an early manifestation of "Gangster" methods - and they tried to bully young Lincoln.
And here is an example of the power of the man. He refused to be bullied; further he challenged the leader - the biggest one - to a wrestling match, and with his work-hardened muscles was able to throw him on his head. The leader of the gang promptly became his friend. It was an example of the spirit, backed by the strength, which later were to enable him to throw other opponents on their heads - and afterwards make them his friends.
It was here that he began seriously to study. First he took up surveying, but later turned to law, and in 1837, when he was twenty-eight years old, he was given a licence to practise. Meanwhile, however, many things had happened. His store failed, due, it was said, more to the neglect of his partner than to his own. It left him with a load of debt which took him fifteen years to pay off. But he did it. He stood as candidate for the Legislature and was defeated, but at his second attempt two years later - in 1834 - he headed the poll.
In 1832, while his law studies were still in progress, an Indian war broke out. Black Hawk, with his band of Sacs and Foxes, returned from Iowa to Illinois. Lincoln volunteered and was made a captain in the Frontier Force; but before he had seen any active service that particular force was disbanded. He joined another unit as a private, and served until the end of the campaign.
He moved to Springfield in 1840, and six years later was elected to Congress, but did not remain there long, and in 1858, a mature man of forty-nine, he was elected to the Senate on the Republican vote. Here he early attracted attention by a speech he delivered against slavery. It was the famous "House divided against itself" speech.
"I believe," he said, "that this Government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect that it will cease to be divided. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward until it shall become lawful in all the States - old as well as new, North as well as South."
This was the most outspoken utterance so far of any American statesman. There had been whisperings behind closed doors - secret conferences; just as, at a later date, there were when the Irish Home Rule Bill was being discussed across the Atlantic; but no one dared to speak his true thoughts. No one knew at that time that the question was to split the Union asunder and cause a civil war. There were only mutterings of the approaching thunder.
Lincoln's speech so impressed the Republicans that when, in May, 1860, the Republican Convention came together in Chicago he was nominated for the Presidency on the third ballot. He was supported by the entire anti-slave sentiment of the North; in the South his name was reviled. At the election on November 6, he secured 1,866,462 of the popular vote, against his nearest opponent's 1,375,157. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1861; he then being fifty-two.
But extreme partisans of slavery did not wait for the new President to be inaugurated. They began their preparations for revolt. As soon as the result of the election was known, a movement for separation from the Union was begun in South Carolina. It carried with it the States of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississipi, Texas and Louisiana. A provisional government, styled the "Confederate States of America," was set up, and Jefferson Davis, of Mississipi, was made President. All the arsenals and posts and other public property of the United States were seized. Mr. Lincoln said nothing about it until he had been inaugurated. Like Brer Rabbit, "he lay low and say nuffin."
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